Gordon McCue had spent eight years at a small
boutique firm, and at a top Calgary litigation
firm, and was preparing for partnership. But,
he admits, he was burned out by the workload
and the lifestyle. Some law school friends had
recently moved in-house and they were adamant
that it was a rejuvenating career move. A casual
mention of an open position at energy giant Shell
was enough for him to take his chances. McCue
went through a rigourous interview process for a
downstream solicitor position. Downstream refers
to anything from the refinery gate down to the gas
station. He supported the commercial fuels group,
which operated Shell’s truck stop network and
sold bulk fuels to large commercial customers.
The general counsel and associate general counsel
who interviewed him thought his litigation
experience could be an advantage, as he’d bring a
different perspective to the negotiation and drafting of commercial contracts. At the time, Shell’s
structure meant that the lawyers supporting each
business unit would handle any litigation that
occurred relating to that business. But McCue was
only putting litigation on hold for half a decade.
In 2012, Shell decided to create a litigation
department that would handle the company’s
global litigation portfolio. The idea was that the
company would handle litigation in the same
manner, no matter where it happened. McCue
applied for the job and became managing counsel for litigation in Canada.
“As I got involved and started working on it, I
discovered that in-house litigation management
involved me in what I saw as the best parts of the
litigation process,” he says. “Working on the individual case strategy, and considering how we’d
addressed similar litigation that came in against
us in Canada and looking at how it all connected
together on a regional or global scale was really
interesting.” He spent three years managing
litigation and a team of four lawyers in Canada
before he moved to his current role of associate
general counsel for strategy and coordination.
Reassessing Shell’s needs
McCue’s new, high-level strategy role builds
upon his former position. He now manages
a global team that spans the United States,
Malaysia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Most of his team of 25 is based in Houston TX,
with a significant portion of the team focused
on e-discovery matters, handling all document
retrieval for Shell’s litigation around the world.
The benefits of a global litigation group are
manifold, as a fresh set of eyes reviews every
issue that arises. Instead of a commercial lawyer
occasionally managing litigation work, a team
of dedicated litigation specialists can assess the
dispute and move the company’s goals forward.
In the prior model, it was possible that past
involvement in the business line clouded judgment. However, Shell modeled its new approach
to litigation on other industry’s methodology.
Industries like banking, insurance, and pharmaceuticals pioneered this concept because they
were frequently exposed to litigation risk.
Shell’s sourcing team, which also reports to
McCue, works to create innovative appropriate fee arrangements (AFA) with its law firms.
McCue and his team hired Vince Cordo from
law firm Reed Smith to improve on their AFA
program. In hiring a pricing specialist, McCue
wanted someone who understood the law firm
compensation models and pricing practices
— in essence the “poacher turned gamekeeper”
model. “We followed that model as we built out
the team because the perspective they bring to
scoping a piece of legal work and pricing it appropriately is different than your typical corporate procurement professional,” McCue says.
The reaction from law firms was mostly positive. A lot of the larger firms were already moving toward AFAs, McCue says. Some had already
hired pricing teams, which often aligned with
legal project management and tended to result in
better and more efficient outcomes.
In order to manage his global team, McCue
spends a lot of time on the phone. He has weekly
or biweekly calls or video conferences with
his direct reports. When his teams were first
assembled, he spent six months in Houston,
working alongside most of them. Now, every two
months he to travels to Houston for a full work
week. “Even though I talk to them once a week
The In-house Strategy
TIPS & INSIGHTS
80 ASSOCIATION OF CORPORATE COUNSEL
COUNSEL, GLOBAL LITIGATION
CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA